Archbishop Charles Chaput, who had been delayed by the crowds in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, briefly interrupted one of the Thursday afternoon, Sept. 24, breakout sessions of the World Meeting of Families last week specifically to thank the speaker.
“We tried to reach out to many communities, but I don’t think that anyone does family quite as well as the Mormons do. So thank you for taking the time to teach us how to do what you do so well here today,” the archbishop told Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the governing bodies of the hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He led the talk “Living Our Heavenly Father’s Plan: Techniques for Family Unity from Mormon Homes.” Joining him in his presentation were two local Mormon families, the Bostics from West Chester and the Andersons from Wilmington, Del., who gave their insights and answered questions in a guided discussion.
Both families and Christofferson described family prayer time and Scripture study as central to forming strong bonds, particularly with the inclusion of all present.
“Many people will probably be asking, ‘You really sit down and study the Scriptures together — even the little ones?’ said Christofferson, pointing to the Andersons’ five children.
“I read the Scriptures by myself,” said the youngest of them, 4-year-old Ivy Anderson.
Her mother, Brandy, added that when the family gathers, “there’s always just a little bit of competition back and forth. So we decided as a family that it’s usually the best to go oldest to youngest through a passage.”
Both families said group study of the Bible (and in their cases, the Book of Mormon) grew easier in terms of language as they slowly got used to it. Mormon families usually have a gathering right after dinnertime. “Little by little we get through it, and we get through it together as a family,” said father Steve Anderson. “We’re on our fourth time through the Book of Mormon.”
“My wife and I,” said Christofferson, citing his many years of marriage, “have discovered that with the Bible … between us, conflict diminishes.”
Mormons are also known for a number of other practices uniquely and uniformly spread across their numbers, such as Family Home evening, a specific night each week (usually Monday nights) set apart to sing, pray, give service, play games, share talents and discuss how families can apply Gospel principles in daily life.
The custom, which incidentally celebrated its centenary this past year, traces its origins to 1915 when a formal Family Home evening program was developed in the church’s Utah Stake and was first endorsed and made churchwide by a First Presidency statement.
The Bostics and the Andersons described their activities as including prayer and song and wholesome games. Ivy Anderson said her favorite part of those nights were the Rice Krispies treats, then a prayer and song; for her, children’s songs were the favorite.
Mormons are also particular about their devotion to the Sabbath, setting aside Sunday as a day given to God and family only. Both the Bostics and the Andersons were emphatic about their children not participating in sports or extracurricular activities on that day.
Families also gather on Sunday to review their goals and challenges for the week.
“We’re busy, of course, and it’s always challenge,” said Brandy. “But Sunday is a time to give a spiritual lesson to our children. That’s our time to teach something Christ-like to our children in a really specific way.”
Noting the specific vocabulary of “lessons,” one woman from the audience interjected, asking what kind of lessons were meant and how were they taught.
“It’s more of what we notice throughout the week, from what we’re experiencing and observing,” said Steve. “If our kids are kind of being mean, we’ll give them a little talk about kindness. If they need more of an emphasis on honesty, it’ll be about that. But it’s less of a formal thing. Sometimes, because we want the kids to understand how to teach, we’ll let the older kids teach the younger ones, and guide them.”
“The family is not just one way among many to invite God into the world — it is the first way,” said Christofferson. “A child comes to know his Heavenly Father through a good man acting well in his role as father. He learns the love and goodness of heaven through the mother.”
Although pressed for time in the hour-long session, attendees were given full-color handouts including a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” as read by Mormon President Gordon Hinckley to the General Relief Society in 1995.
The breakout concluded with a video greeting from the three members of the First Presidency, the Mormon Church’s highest governing body. Emphasizing that “The miracle of becoming one requires the help of Heaven, and takes time,” the brief video expressed its support of the family continuing the mission of God on earth, noting that, in all cultures, “Our homes will be blessed as we follow him.”
According to Archbishop Chaput, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also donated $250,000 “to help support what we’re doing this week” at the World Meeting.